Saturday, February 21, 2009 06:01 PM
The Take
 by Fëanor

Fëanor's weekly comic book review post.

This covers new releases from the week of 2/11.

Action Comics #874
I made a mistake picking up this book. Even though I saw it was written by James Robinson, whom I dislike, and not Geoff Johns, the book's usual author, I bought it anyway, because it was Action Comics and I collect Action Comics. But I should know by now that loyalty to a particular book is a mistake; loyalty to particular authors is much smarter. And an even smarter plan than that is to always stay away from authors that have disappointed you in the past. I didn't do that, and I got what I deserved: I wasted my money on a lousy comic.

Of course, I can't blame it all on James Robinson. Part of the problem is Pablo Raimondi's art, which I really dislike. It's an interesting idea to start the book with a full-page closeup on Superman's face as he screams, "You're crazy!" But it would work better if the face weren't drawn really oddly, with totally dead eyes. I don't really like the way Raimondi draws anybody else in the book, either. Usually I don't even notice the inking, but I think that might be a large factor in why things look so strange and wrong here; everything is over-inked. There's just huge black shadows all over everybody. Raimondi is credited for the inking, as well, along with Walden Wong.

But let's get to the story. Superman is on New Krypton and figures out that General Zod has been put in charge of the security forces there, which freaks him out a little. But Zod insists he's not up to anything, and Alura is on his side. The two of them invite Superman to come and stay on New Krypton. Superman says he'll think about it and wanders off. Meanwhile, Lex has stolen Brainiac's ship, and Earth bans all Kryptonians except Superman. There's a really pathetically poorly written scene between Jimmy Olsen and Lombard where Lombard reveals to Jimmy that the number he's researching is hell written upside down. Wow. Stunning. There's another short, cryptic, pointless cameo from Nightwing and Flamebird (I'm really getting tired of those two showing up for a panel, not doing anything, and then disappearing again until next issue), and then the Phantom Zone gets totally destroyed for some reason, so Superman yanks Mon-El out so he won't die in there, even though he'll now probably die of lead poisoning outside. The Origins & Omens backup story (also written by James Robinson, but with pencils by Renato Guedes, who's definitely better than Raimondi) sees Scar peeking in on The Guardian. This is interesting, because I really had no idea who this guy was, and this little story cleared up at least some of my questions. Apparently he's a clone of Jim Harper, the dude who used to be The Guardian. We get a look inside his head and realize he's wracked with self-doubt and insecurity. He and his police force get to fight a giant Teddy Bear, thanks to Toyman. Scar's little bit at the end seems to suggest that Harper's daughter (apparently also a clone - jeez, there's a lot of those going around!) is going to die before all this is over. Huh.

So I was glad to have some of my questions answered about the Guardian, but otherwise this issue was clumsy and dull. People tell me James Robinson has written good things in the past, but I haven't seen any of them yet!
Thumbs Down

Batman #686
This is the first part of Neil Gaiman's much ballyhooed two-part story entitled "Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?" which is meant to act as a sort of eulogy for Batman. The second part will appear in Detective Comics, a book I usually don't collect, so I'll have to keep my eyes peeled for it.

The story has an odd structure. Two disembodied voices - one of whom is clearly Bruce Wayne - are speaking to each other throughout in narrative boxes. Wayne doesn't seem to know where he is or what he's seeing. The other voice isn't helping much. What he is seeing is what we're seeing - a weird, other-worldly version of Gotham, a Gotham that has also lost its Batman, but that seems set in a time decades before. All of Gotham's usual cast of characters is here, but they're all slightly different - sort of like primal, allegorical versions of themselves. They gather together for a viewing/funeral for Batman (even Joe Chill is there - he couldn't be, because he's dead, but he's there anyway; he has to be there at the end, just as he was at the beginning), and they start telling stories about the caped crusader - who he was to them, and what part they had in his life and his death.

I like all the references to Batman comic book creators past in the background of the first few pages - the sign for the Aparo Bridge, a reference to Jim Aparo; the ad with the phrase "Finger It," referring to Bill Finger. I'm sure there are more I didn't recognize. I also like that Dr. Kirk "Man-Bat" Langstrom is told he can sit on either side, with the villains or the heroes, as he chooses.

The first story is "The Cat-Woman's Tale." Here Selina decides to go straight, sort of, telling all the other criminals to get out of Gotham or else, and then opening up a pet store and settling down. One night an injured Batman stumbles into her store, and she ties him up and lets him bleed to death. Next is "The Gentleman's Gentleman's Tale," told by Alfred, of course. In this version of Batman's story, all of the crime Batman fights is an illusion - actors hired by Alfred to give Bruce someone to contend with, to give his life meaning. Alfred plays the worst of them all: the Joker. But in the end, Eddie Nash takes his role as the Riddler too seriously, and actually shoots Batman dead.

What do these weird stories mean, and how can they and the frame story not be a dream? It's all very strange, but all very intriguing. And each of the stories, though it can't possibly have happened, has the ring of truth about it. It is very much like reading a dream. It's eerie and unreal, but it has fragments of reality sticking out of it. I love the concept of all of Batman's friends and villains present and past gathering together to see him off - it just feels right - and I love the way it's executed here. Gaiman has captured the essence of the characters. I love also the way that the two people who were probably closest to Batman take the blame, to a certain extent, for his death. I should also mention that Andy Kubert's art is excellent - it's great the way he renders the costumes and styles of the various different time periods. I'll be very curious to see the second part of this story and discover how it all turns out.
Thumbs Up

Captain Britain and MI13 #10
Dracula and Doctor Doom on the moon!!! That's the way to start your comic! Anyway, while the two of them are putting together a truce, Captain Britain and friends are off getting drunk and snogging in various pubs. Well, not all Cap's friends are getting drunk; the Black Knight is off doing important things, like collecting the real Black Blade from Wakanda, and having awkward moments with Faiza. Then Dracula launches a bunch of vampires at the Earth from the moon, like bloody missiles! It's crazy! Also, he was aiming at Cap and friends. Lady J has a disturbing run-in with someone from her past, and Dracula goes after Faiza's family. Which unfortunately probably means there's going to be a lot of Faiza in this story arc. Sigh.

But anyway, still some seriously exciting and crazy stuff that I really enjoyed. I particularly like that Dracula is a racist bastard. And he fired vampires at the Earth from the moon!! That's nuts, man!
Thumbs Up

Hellboy: The Wild Hunt #3
You know what rules? Hellboy. I'm not even sure why I review this book; it's always just incredibly awesome. This issue is a real blast from the past, as Hellboy catches up with the little baby he saved from the fairies in The Corpse. She's a grown woman now, and still communicates with the fairies. So she takes Hellboy to see Queen Mab, and also explains to him what's going on now with Gruagach - the Queen he's raised, and the army he's building. Mab takes Hellboy on a bit of a tour of his recent past, and tells him, "I think that must be the curse of your life—that the ruin of things will come from your good works." Ouch. She knows him too well and cuts him to the core. But she also gives him important information - there's still a chance for him to escape his fate. He must be a king and lead an army against the army of the Queen of Blood. But not an army of men.

I love the quick summary of Hellboy's life, and the incredible images and words that tell that story. I love that his past is all coming together and building to this huge, fateful conflict. There's also a great scene with the Queen of Blood where she gets some vengeance and continues to plan her conquest. This is just brilliant, beautiful stuff; exciting, dramatic, magical. I'm so pleased this miniseries is eight issues long, because that means there's still plenty more of it to enjoy!

Also included in the back of this issue is the conclusion to the two-part tale of "How Koshchei Became Deathless." This is also brilliant, beautiful, magical, and powerful. The art in both stories - the first by Duncan Fegredo, the second by Guy Davis - is just wonderful.

Okay, that's enough gushing. The point is, fantastic book.
Thumbs Up

Incognito #2
This issue opens with a great scene where the Black Death and his lawyer have a perfectly innocent conversation aloud, while discussing the surprise reappearance of Zack Overkill telepathically. It's clear to the Black Death that Overkill is the one who betrayed him, and he's pissed that his people failed when they assured him Overkill was dead.

Zack, meanwhile, is oblivious and having a great time beating people up at night while hanging out with his crazy, stoned buddy at work during the day. We also get a closer look at the seedy insides of Amanda's life and mind, and get a better idea of the size and shape of the bug that's up her ass. There's a fascinating torture sequence back in the Black Death's secret lab where the darkly funny truth about a supervillain's fortune-telling powers comes out. Then, just as Zack's thinking he chose his one friend well, and that the guy has just done him a big favor, his buddy up and tries to blackmail him into helping him rob a bank. Hoo boy. This is not going to end well. And now the story is really starting to feel like a noir story, with our anti-hero getting caught in his own web of lies and being pulled deeper and deeper into a dangerous situation that is rapidly spiraling out of control. And there's also that damaged woman that he can't keep his hands off of.

I was a little disappointed with the first issue of this series, probably due at least in part to my really high expectations, but it's really coming into its own now and I'm loving where it's going.
Thumbs Up

Patsy Walker: Hellcat #5
This very weird miniseries comes to an end with this issue. The recap page at the beginning is hilarious and excellent, as always; this time it's done up as a list of "super hero do's and don't's." Storywise, Patsy gets Pete to turn the big stone map back into a person - Ssangyong's Dad. Ssangyong talks to him and to Patsy and finally she agrees to take them all back home and see her family again. Ssangyong is still really pissed with her family, but Patsy manages to broker a kind of peace between them. And then at the end she might still have some magical powers? I'm not sure about that. This was a strange little comic. I liked that author Kathryn Immonen tried to do something different with it, and I love David Lafuente's crazy art. But I can't say it was a huge success. It's just very odd, and although there are clearly metaphorical and allegorical things going on, it's rarely entirely clear what they symbolize. I found myself mildly confused through the entire thing, but never really interested enough to try to dig in there and figure it all out. Still, I was also mildly amused the whole time, so I guess it's a fair trade off.
Thumbs Sideways

Scalped #25
Well, wow. This book swings off in a completely different direction with this issue, the first part of a new story arc called "High Lonesome." We get a short, dark, bloody history of Native Americans in the opening, courtesy of a book that our new main character is reading. He's a liar and a scam artist who rolls into the rez seeking one last big score, counting cards at the casino. He knows it's risky, but there's no other place left he can practice his trade; he's been kicked out of everywhere else. He builds and then quickly destroys a twisted relationship with a stripper/hooker, and his extensive narration gives us a deep, dark look inside his seriously messed up mind. He's a truly sad and broken person. But he realizes he has a chance at an even bigger final score when he recognizes an FBI agent is working undercover at the casino, and he can blackmail the guy into helping him rob the place!

...which is just like the ending of this week's Incognito! Jason Aaron and Ed Brubaker should maybe have compared stories. But really I don't mind; they're each doing noir stories where the main character is blackmailed into a robbery, but the stories are otherwise quite different, with very different characters in them. Aaron is continually surprising me with Scalped. Here's an issue that's almost all narration, but the narration is really, really good, giving us a complex look at a complex man. Looking forward to seeing where this one goes next!
Thumbs Up

Wolverine: Manifest Destiny #4
For starting out in such a promising fashion, this miniseries ends in a bit of a disappointing way. It finally comes out that what went wrong all those years ago is that Wolverine refused to become the new Black Dragon Tong after defeating the previous one. It turns out that's how it works - a Black Dragon Tong is needed to keep the peace and hold everything together - and Wolverine didn't realize that. When he was offered the honor, he refused it and just ran off. So his girlfriend took the job in his place, and over time she became bitter and corrupt. Back in the present, Wolverine faces off against, and this time defeats, his ex's gang of super killers - apparently he did learn something from the old guy's training after all. It's pretty messed up that Wolverine dodges the effect of the soul punch by focusing on the happy memory of killing the Soulstriker's grandfather. Anyway, once he takes them out, the other kung fu dudes in town finally step in and back Wolverine up. And this time when he wins, he agrees to become the new Black Dragon Tong. But not only has his ex survived and is still gunning for him, the cops know he's the new top man and want him, too. So, his problems are not exactly over.

The story took some interesting turns, and there was some fun action. But it somehow was just not as exciting as it seems like it should have been.
Thumbs Sideways
Tagged (?): Action Comics (Not), Batman (Not), Comic books (Not), Ed Brubaker (Not), Hellboy (Not), Jason Aaron (Not), Mike Mignola (Not), Neil Gaiman (Not), Paul Cornell (Not), Scalped (Not), Superman (Not), The Take (Not), Wolverine (Not)

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Welcome to the blog of Jim Genzano, writer, web developer, husband, father, and enjoyer of things like the internet, movies, music, games, and books. For a more detailed run-down of who I am and what goes on here, read this.

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